If we think about the nature of all things, we are sometimes confronted with what we believe to be hard limits. We feel that the boundaries of reality are clearly defined and that there is only one perception of this. Too often we redefine these boundaries as discoveries are made, both in our personal lives and in the greater world around us.
Consider what ‘Power’ means. If approached as a perspective, power can be anything from a state of mind, to control, to peace, to dominance. It can be destruction, or it can be salvation. But is power the ability to perceive, or is it the ability to negotiate obstacles?
When we’re faced with challenges that sometimes seem insurmountable, often we give them a kind of power, either through their influence over us or the respect they demand. We counter this by eventually coming to terms with the true nature of its power; that is, gradually realizing that it has none.
In Kung Fu, powerful strikes can be negotiated in many ways. The least effective is force-on-force. We do not strike power with power. We negotiate it by redirecting the flow of its energy or we use our frame to absorb its potency, often while expending very little return energy.
So, who has the power then? The strike, or the block? The attacker, or the defender?
This is the nature of counters and balance.
If a strike is received without response, the power lies in the blow and not in the reception of it. If a strike is mitigated in some fashion, then the power resides with he who absorbed it, yet the power is not in the absorption of the blow itself as much as it lies within the ability to bend.
I am reminded of the story of the Reed and the Oak with this truth. As the winds blow across a meadow, the reed is whipped about, where the Oak stands firm, swaying in the breeze. The oak scoffs at the reed, relishing in its power.
One day a violent storm comes along, and the winds crash against the reed and the oak alike. As before, the reed whips about, following the contours of the wind as it buffets against the reed. The oak stands firm, confident that it can stand against the fury of the this storm as it had many times before.
But bit by bit, the oak is dismantled; its strength fading. The winds chip at its smaller branches, tear its leaves from its limbs, and even pull whole arms from its trunk. The Oak cries out at its losses.
When the storm passes, the oak is left in disrepair, its pieces scattered across the meadow. Standing beside it, unharmed, is the reed. The oak beholds the reed in a new light.. seeing that strength is valuable, but so is compromise. Being sturdy is necessary, but being flexible is true strength.
At first glance, our lesson seems to lie nearly completely with the reed. The oak was foolish and the reed was wise. The oak was overconfident and the reed was humble. The oak was the student and the reed was the teacher.
But perhaps this distinction is too simple. The oak has taught us much — perhaps even more than the reed. The oak showed us measurement and contrast as much as the reed did. Were the meadow in our story to only have reeds, the lesson would be lost. If the meadow was a single oak, the lesson would have been lost.
Power doesn’t come from embodying the natures of a single perspective. Wisdom does not come from subscribing to a single ideal. True power — true wisdom — comes from learning to see the lessons that life has to teach us no matter the teacher. The truly wise are the never-ending students of life.
And such brings us back to the nature of balance. To truly be a teacher, you must never stop being a student. To truly be a student, you must be able to behold the teacher in all things.